Friday, April 22, 2011

Cupboard Cleanout: Cuban-style black beans and rice

This is one of a series of Cupboard Cleanout posts dedicated to using up those odds and ends we all have laying about the pantry. It's a pantry liquidation sale— everything must go!

Boy, what a week.  I feel like I'm living in one of those underdog movies where everything has to go wrong before it starts going right.  Except this plot isn't remotely interesting enough for a movie.  Girl works office job that becomes insanely busy; girl suddenly needs to spend eight hours every day doing data entry due to an antiquated system; girl gets berated by an important colleague in a one-sided conversation that finishes with, "Listen, I know this wasn't your fault, but I wish your office had done this differently."

But every underdog movie has a turning point, right?  Where things start looking up?

I think I've reached it.  The weekend, some time with family, some homemade pastries, and possibly some exciting news coming down the pipeline.  (I know how you think and I will tell you this now: it is not a baby.)

And, to tide me over until I score the winning goal or the 3-pointer at the buzzer or something, I'll eat these soothing beans and rice.  So simple in concept, but it tastes like a dozen grandmas spent hours working in the kitchen just for me. 

Cuban-Style Black Beans and Rice
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated
Serves 4-6

Like in many Cuban dishes, the earthy undertones in this dish come from a sofrito, a mix of onion, green peppers, and garlic, with oregano, cumin, and often a bay leaf.  I used one green bell pepper and added a red bell pepper for added sweetness and color.
Don't skip the step of rinsing the rice; rinsing off the extra starch will remove density from the dish, making it lighter and fluffier.

Good quality fine sea salt
4 cups vegetable broth, or 2 cups chicken broth and 2 cups water
1 cup dried black beans, rinsed and picked over, preferably soaked for at least 8 hours, and drained
1 green bell pepper, halved and seeded
1 medium onion, halved through the root end and peeled
2 bay leaves
1 head garlic
1 cup white rice (preferably a long grain like basmati)
2 tablespoons lard, or 2 tablespoons bacon fat rendered from 6 slices of bacon
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 avocado, several radishes, and lime wedges to garnish (optional but delicious)

1.  In a large Dutch oven, dissolve 1 teaspoon of the salt in the broth (and water, if you're using it).  Toss in the drained beans, 1 half of the green bell pepper, half of the onion, and the bay leaves.  Cut the garlic head through the equator; reserve the unattached clove tops that fall out and toss the remaining half-head into the pot, peel and all.  Bring the pot to a boil over medium heat-high heat, then cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the beans are tender.

2.  Remove the pepper, onion, garlic, and bay leaves from the pot with a pair of tongs.  Set a colander over a large bowl and use it to drain the beans, reserving the liquid.  The bean liquid should measure at least 2 cups; if not, add a bit of water until it reaches 2 cups.  Don't bother washing out the Dutch oven.

3.  Rinse the rice in a strainer under cold water, until the water runs clear; shake out any excess water.  Dice the other half of the onion and the other half of the green bell pepper.  Mince the reserved clove tops of the head of garlic; you should have about 3 teaspoons of garlic (mince an additional clove if you need to).

4.  In the empty Dutch oven, heat the bacon fat over medium heat, then toss in the diced peppers and onion, oregano, and cumin.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften and begin to turn golden, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the tomato paste and the 3 remaining teaspoons of garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the rice and stir for 30 seconds to a minute, coating all of the grains with fat and spice.

5.  Stir in the beans, the reserved bean liquid, and 1 teaspoon salt.  Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a gentle boil, then cover, turn heat to low, and let simmer until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, 15-20 minutes.  Stir in the lime juice, then fluff with a fork and let the dish rest, uncovered, about 5 minutes before serving.

Serve with chunks of avocado, thinly sliced radishes, and lime wedges, if you like.


  1. Sounds delicious. Did you make it with Basmati rice? At what point did you add the tomato paste?
    About the 1/2 garlic head that you removed: Did the garlic cloves come out into the beans or were they left in the head and could you use them, or did they have no flavor left?

  2. Hi Faye! How embarrassing... thanks for pointing out the missing tomato paste, I'll fix that straightaway. I did use Basmati, and as for the garlic: none of the cloves should detach from the head into the beans. That's a good point. I didn't need to use those cloves so I didn't taste them for flavor, but I don't imagine there would be much viable flavor left after the long simmer.